Northwest Florida is proud of our strong relationship with the United States Armed Forces. Service men and women train and work at our local bases, their spouses are active in our local community, and their children attend local schools. But often lost in the daily shuffle of life in and around our local military and Coast Guard is the fact that these are the brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coastguardsmen who put themselves in harm’s way to defend our freedom. Some defend it with their lives by paying the ultimate sacrifice. Over the past two weeks, our area was reminded of this devastating fact in a series of losses that have shaken the very core of our community.
A total of nine men have been lost and one still missing in a matter of eleven days– all ten of whom were serving their country as part of our United States Armed Services and Coast Guard. Of their dedication to duty, courage of heart, and commitment to our great nation, there can be no doubt.
On February 18, four members of U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command were killed when their U-28 aircraft went down near Camp Lemonnier outside of Djibouti, Africa: Captain Ryan P. Hall of Colorado Springs, Colorado; Captain Nicholas S. Whitlock of Newnan, Georgia; First Lieutenant Justin J. Wilkens of Bend, Oregon; and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten of Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Four men who while stationed at Hurlburt Field became a part of our community. Four men who gave their lives in service to their country.
On February 23, Army Sergeant Joshua A. Born was killed in the Khogyani District of the Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Originally from Niceville, Sergeant Born joined the Army in 2007 after high school. He was on his first deployment to Afghanistan when he and other members of his Company came under fire during local protests, and he was killed in action. Sergeant Born gave his life in service to his country.
On February 25, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel John D. Loftis of Paducah, Kentucky became the sixth member of our community to be killed in action in the past two weeks. Prior to his deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan as part of the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, Lt Col Loftis was stationed at the Air Force Special Operations Training Center on Hurlburt Field. He entered the Air Force in 1996 as a Space and Missile Officer and had been awarded the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Army Achievement Medal. Lt Col Loftis gave his life in service to his country.
On February 28, three members of the U.S. Coast Guard were killed and one remains missing after a helicopter crash during a training exercise in Mobile Bay, Alabama. Chief Petty Officer Fernando Jorge of Cypress, California; Lieutenant Commander Dale Taylor of Snow Hill, North Carolina; and Lieutenant Junior Grade Thomas Cameron of Portland, Oregon died as a result of the crash. Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Knight of Thomasville, Alabama remains missing. These men gave their lives in service to their country.
No words can express how we feel during such a time of loss. Our hearts and our prayers go out to the families of the men we’ve lost and the Coastguardsman who is still missing. May God be with each and every one of you.
As a community we must grieve for the warriors who passed away. We must mourn the fallen and we must pay tribute to their sacrifice. But we must also rally. And I know we will. Because that’s who we are in Northwest Florida. A community that stands behind the United States Armed Forces and proudly proclaims our fathers and mothers, our sisters and brothers, and our sons and daughters as members of a military tradition unlike anywhere else in the world.
We are and will continue to be the greatest country in the history of the world because of men and women like Captain Hall, Captain Whitlock, Lieutenant Wilkens, Senior Airman Scholten, Sergeant Born, Lieutenant Colonel Loftis, Chief Petty Officer Jorge, Lieutenant Commander Taylor, Lieutenant Cameron, and Petty Officer Knight. Men who gave their lives in service to their country. Men who we will never forget.
To those who continue to stand guard and take up the mantle of freedom that has been passed to you by those we’ve lost, thank you for what you do.
May God bless the families of those we’ve lost and those who serve, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.